God gave you two ears and one mouth for a reason. Listen more than you talk. –Momma, c. 1970
It seems among the Christian family there is a strong desire to talk before we listen.
Perhaps that is not exactly accurate. There is a strong tendency to talk before we listen. We have a habit of responding before we have understanding, as if listening is a sin. As if seeking clarity through humility and quietness are compromising the truth.
Often this is displayed when addressing sin, sinfulness, or sinners. “Open rebuke is better than secret love” (Proverbs 27:5) has become the banner behind which many engage in public debate. “Sin has to be confronted” as they say. Sometimes a casual bystander to an online riot may wonder whether the love part exists even in secret.
We know from scripture how Jesus loves people, including some instances where He did not mention a person’s sin at the beginning of the relationship. Jesus seemed willing—at least in some of His interactions—to ask questions of a person and evaluate a situation before moving forward.
Scripture addresses directly our need to listen:
My dear brothers and sisters, understand this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger, for human anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness. (James 1:19-20, CSB)
The one who has knowledge restrains his words, and one who keeps a cool head is a person of understanding. (Proverbs 17:27, CSB)
Listening is not a compromising of truth. If it is Jesus could rightly be considered a compromiser. Attempting to gain a full understanding of how a person thinks, feels, responds, or what they believe is wise. Anything else is foolish. Rushing headlong where angels fear to tread is not necessarily “defending the faith.” You may rather be punching it in the face.
Attentiveness in listening is listening (my wife can attest to my struggles in this area). We cannot use listening time as a time to formulate our response. (“I wish you’d stop talking so I can tell you what you need to hear.”) Conversations are to gain understanding, not to fire off our preconceptions at their first pause for breath.
A fool does not delight in understanding, but only want to show off his opinions. (Proverbs 18:2, CSB)
Shrill engagement, no matter how sincere, is useless. It is not helpful to scrub out another’s ears with a Brillo pad; that’s abuse, not clarity. You can search the entire scripture to verify, but abrasion is not a fruit of the Spirit. Love is. Peace is. Patience is. Kindness is. Goodness is. Gentleness is. So is self-control.
Hyper-judgmentalism, critical spirits, slowness to listen, quickness to speak, angry responses—the sins many Christians commit in conversations with unbelievers—are as big a problem as the sins we try to correct. They are the passions and desires Jesus died to destroy. May they be crucified to death in our conversations moment by moment.
A version of this article originally appeared at Kingdom in the Midst and is used with permission.